To be a member of the U.S. military is to be part of something larger than yourself, Julie Radford says. And that’s what she wanted.
But at 175 pounds, Radford was too heavy for the Army.
Most potential recruits stop there, said Staff Sgt. Austin Berrian of the Army’s Smithfield recruiting station. “When 99 percent of them hear they need to lose weight, they don’t come back,” he said. “Even if it’s just a few pounds, it’s hard to make a lifestyle change.”
Radford was not about to let her weight stop her. In 14 weeks, she was back at the recruiting center, down to 131 pounds.
Radford had not always struggled with her weight. She was healthy and athletic as a child, she said, but after high school, she put on a considerable amount of weight.
Radford said her weight gain had harmed her self-esteem and concerned her mom. The motivation to change her lifestyle, she said, came in part from her desire to become a soldier.
“It was hard,” Radford said, “but I knew I needed to make the change for myself. Not for anyone else, not for the Army. I wanted to be healthier, and I wanted to be a part of this.”
To join the Army, Radford needed to lose 40 pounds. She lost 44, with plans to continue shedding pounds while building muscle.
“For some people, it’s weight training or things like that,” Radford said. “For me, it was cardio. And it was hard. It was really, really hard sometimes. But I made myself do it, and it slowly got easier … Now I don’t have to catch my breath going up a flight of stairs.”
When the Army told Radford she needed to lose weight to enlist, she began her cardio routine immediately. She built up from “barely being able to walk a mile” to running six or more miles at least six days per week.
“I didn’t even own a scale,” Raford said. “I went and bought one that day and went home and started the whole process.”
Radford cut out fast food, choosing instead a diet with more vegetables, lean protein and complex carbohydrates.
“Butternut squash is one of my favorites,” she said. “I eat it all the time now.”
Radford still allows herself a “cheat day” every once in awhile, and she said anyone looking to follow her example needs to understand that it’s not about denying yourself what you want.
“When you start denying yourself, that’s when you end up binge eating,” Radford said. “You have to learn to have things in moderation and find healthy alternatives. You can’t starve yourself either.”
Now Radford is headed to Fort Sill, Okla., for basic training. Afterward, she will receive specialized training at Fort Rucker, Ala. Radford hopes to become an aviations operator, her military occupational specialty, or MOS.
Radford said she had cleared mental, emotional and physical hurdles to prepare herself for enlistment. And she credits her success in part to the support of family and recruiters at the Smithfield station.
But Radford also recognizes that she owes her success to an internal determination and dedication that Berrian said will make her a great soldier.
“You don’t see people come back again and again like that,” he said of Radford coming back to the center to train and be weighed and measured. “That tells us something about the type of person she is. People who are that dedicated and who can persevere through that, it’s what we want in people we recruit.”
The Army is now using Radford as an inspiration for other Johnston County recruits, Berrian said.
“I have another girl who came in at about 185, and I told her about Julie,” he said. “Her success has been a really great thing for us to use to help motivate other people. She’s a great example for anyone else looking to achieve a goal like this. We’re very proud of her.”
Weight is a challenge for many recruits, Berrian said, but the Army tries to work with them to become Army ready.
“We’re not trying to create some kind of club and exclude people,” he said. “We have the height/weight requirements ... but we really just want people to be healthy. Julie did that, and others can too.”
Radford said she’s not anxious about the challenges that still are before her as she trains.
“I’m excited,” she said, smiling. “All of this work paid off, and I’m going to keep it up. I know it’s going to be really hard, but I feel so much more confident than just a few months ago. I feel ready, and I’m really proud of myself and thankful for all of the support.”
Abbie Bennett: 919-553-7234, Ext. 101; @AbbieRBennett